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Qi Baishi, Crabs, ca. 1930. Album leaf, ink on paper. University of Michigan Museum of Art. Gift of Sotokichi Katsuizumi, 1949/1.199

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY.- Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930 is a major exhibition exploring the relationship between the two artists established in 1930 when, at the age of twenty six, Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) stopped in Beijing en route to Japan. Sotokichi Katsuizumi, a Japanese businessman and collector of Chinese painting, introduced young Noguchi to Qi Baishi (1864–1957), who is considered one of the most influential ink painters in China in the 20th century. For six months, Noguchi worked with the eminent artist in his studio, developing a new vision of abstraction. 

The exhibition comprises more than fifty drawings, ink paintings, calligraphic works, and sculptures by both artists seen side-by-side for the first time, thus providing a unique opportunity to observe how Noguchi’s vision of abstraction was transformed and reinvented during his time in Beijing. In addition to examining the influences the elder artist’s practice had on Noguchi, Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi also illuminates their respective and lasting effects on contemporary art internationally. 

Opened The Noguchi Museum, in New York City, on September 25, 2013 and on view through January 26, 2014, Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930 is organized by the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) in collaboration with The Noguchi Museum. The works are on loan from the UMMA’s collection (including works given by Katsuizumi to the University, his alma mater); The Noguchi Museum (Noguchi also acquired works by Qi); and other public and private collections. Before its current presentation—its only East Coast venue—the exhibition was on view at the UMMA. The tour concludes at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle (February 22–May 25, 2014). 

While the experience of studying with Qi Baishi transformed aspects of Noguchi’s practice, it also had an impact on the senior artist. During his stay, Noguchi created a series of more than one hundred ink-and-brush works later called the Peking Scroll Drawings. These occupy an important place in his development as an artist and realization of his own form of abstraction. With a selection of Noguchi’s Peking Scroll Drawings, Qi Baishi’s paintings, and archival materials, the exhibition also provides insight into the importance of China in Noguchi’s artistic formation. 

A master seal-maker, Qi created and presented Noguchi with his own seal. This was a highly symbolic gesture because seals serve not just as signifiers of the creator; along with handwritten signatures and inscriptions, they are part of the artist’s persona and integral elements of a painting. The seal, included in the exhibition, demonstrates the master held his student in high esteem. 

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Isamu Noguchi, Peking Drawing (man sitting), 1930. Horizontal hanging scroll, ink on paper, 41 x 76.3 inches. The Noguchi Museum. (c) The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York